When I first landed in Cusco, everything felt surreal. Pom-pom adorned llamas casually trotted around the city’s cobblestoned streets; every wall of my hotel room was hand painted with vibrant flowers; I even stumbled upon an entire section of mystic-looking shaman supplies in the bustling San Pedro Market.
Admittedly, I arrived in Peru not knowing all that much about the country aside from the fact that it’s home to Macchu Picchu, one of the world’s seven wonders and a seemingly constant fixture on my Instagram explore page. I was there to get to know the country better by embarking on a guided lodge-to-lodge trek through the Sacred Valley, a picturesque and history-rich region in the Peruvian highlands.
The trip began by spending a couple of days in Cusco to acclimate to the high elevation (Cusco sits at 11,000 feet). Then we journeyed deep into remote corners of the Sacred Valley, stopping in a different lodge each night. We visited small villages, had lunch with a community of traditional weavers, and trekked daily through glowing green mountainscapes, many of which included seldom-visited Incan archaeological sites like the Ankasmarca ruins, an ancient Incan food storage facility.
It wasn’t until the tail end of the trip that I finally made it to Macchu Picchu. While it is undoubtedly a sight to behold, my day there ultimately remains overshadowed by the more intimate experiences I had earlier in the week. It was in the country’s quiet and majestic Sacred Valley that I was able to fully take in the grandeur of the Peruvian mountains, the warm hospitality of the country’s people, and finally catch my breath.
If you’re also planning to go trekking in Peru’s Sacred Valley, here are some essentials to bring along for the ride.
One of the biggest perks about doing a lodge-to-lodge trek is that the tour company shuttled my luggage between places. That meant all I had to bring with me everyday was a daypack. The distinct compartments of this quirky, colorful pack kept my belongings easily accessible and super organized. As a bonus, the bold colors make it almost completely unlosable.
This affordable and travel-friendly camera lens is something I bring on every trip. It's lightweight, it works great in low light situations, and it shoots both landscapes and portraits like a dream. This specific lens is made for Canon cameras. If you use a camera made by another manufacturer, find something similar by searching for a pancake lens (the nickname for this lens type). It should be easy to find one that is compatible with your make and model.
One of my favorite things to do whenever I travel is to explore the local markets. In Peru, there is an unmissable one located in Pisac, a village in the southern part of the Sacred Valley. Every Sunday, members of nearby Quechua communities come to the Pisac Market to sell their handmade goods to tourists and locals alike. If your Spanish is rusty and your Quechua is nonexistent, do as I do and bring a small notebook to communicate with merchants. When inquiring about a price, I’ll point to an item and gesture for them to jot down the number on a small notepad. If it’s the sort of place where haggling is encouraged (do some research), I’ll write down my counteroffer and show it to them that way.
When you’re walking for miles every day through all different types of terrain, hiking boots are non-negotiable. This classic boot is a favorite of mine because, well, they’re exponentially cuter than most hiking boots. Aside from just looks though, they’re also waterproof, provide arch support, and come with a cushy, comfortable sole that you can walk in all day.
Staying hydrated while hiking at high altitudes is crucial. This bottle is big enough to keep you hydrated for hours but won't add much extra weight to your pack (ahem, looking at you, Hydro Flasks). The narrow-shaped mouth helps to minimize the chance of accidentally spilling water all over your face whenever you try to walk and take a sip at the same time.
Some locals swear that munching on coca leaves will help minimize the effects of altitude sickness, but that never seemed to work for me. To avoid hiking with a throbbing headache, I relied on the occasional dose of Tylenol Extra Strength. These also happen to be an ideal companion for the morning after you get invited to a local’s 40th birthday party in Ollantaytambo and end up drinking an entire case of beer with the birthday boy's family.
Throughout the Sacred Valley, the weather can easily fluctuate by 20 degrees throughout the day. This down coat kept me warm when I needed it and can be compressed into a small pouch when the temperature rises.